Summary: Everyone has a ‘Lazarus’; everyone has a person, place or thing that they believe is essential to their lives. We can’t imagine life without our ‘Lazarus’. This sermon encourages us to mature in our faith by ‘letting go of Lazarus’ and holding on to Christ.

Let Go of Lazarus

So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:41-44; NRSV).


When I was very young, I had a stuffed toy dog named Spot. I loved Spot; kept him with me all of the time. Spot was my ‘go-to’ guy. When I drooled in my sleep, Spot was there. When I had a runny nose, Spot was there. Suffice it to say whatever was going on with me or out of me, Spot was a friend that was closer than a brother.

One day, Spot was suddenly taken away from me by my mother. She did not use terms such as putrid, noxious or malodorous, but she kindly informed me that Spot was in a state of hygienic confusion; Spot had been removed so that he could take a bath in the washing machine.

Unfortunately, this temporary separation became permanent. Spot was not machine washable and did not survive the washing machine agitator. This was a catastrophic event for Spot, me and my mother – especially for my mother because she had to manually fish out the stuffing, so that it would not clog the drain.

However, the day came when I realized that I no longer needed a stuffed toy for comfort and security. It gradually dawned on me that comfort and security came from the God that my mother told me about. Saying grace reaffirmed that God put food on table. Saying bedtime prayers, reaffirmed that God oversaw my welfare. Singing “Yes - Jesus loves me” – reaffirmed that I was loved, based on the authority of God’s word. Having Spot was fine at a certain age and stage of life. But my spiritual maturation required that I let go of Spot, and place my faith in the God who created me. Losing Spot was a painful but teachable moment. It taught me that in order to grow, I had to let go.


Today’s text also describes a painful, but teachable moment on letting go. If we review verses 1 through 43, we see that Mary and Martha, two friends of Jesus, sent word to Jesus, that their brother Lazarus was gravely ill. We also see that Jesus intentionally delayed visiting Lazarus. Jesus began his journey to Bethany after Lazarus died.

When Jesus arrived at the home of Mary and Martha, each sister counterfactually declared to Jesus “If you had been here, our brother would not have died”. Jesus is taken to the tomb. Then in our text, Jesus prays and commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Upon Lazarus’ exit from the tomb, Jesus commands the bystanders to unbind/loose Lazarus and let him go.


In general, this text is a prime example of the theme of John’s gospel – that Jesus is the son of God, and those who believe this will have life through his name. In a discussion with Martha about seeing Lazarus again in the resurrection, Jesus makes clear in verse 25, that he is the resurrection. But there is something else going on here. Jesus could have stayed where he was, and resurrected anyone from the local cemetery to prove this point. Why come to Bethany to do this? Why Lazarus and not someone else?

Moreover, if we compare this text to Luke chapter 7, it appears that Jesus is engaged in a behavior, which Mr. Spock from Star Trek would describe as ‘highly illogical’. Specifically, in the Luke passage, Jesus healed a centurion’s servant without going to see him; Jesus simply spoke the word and it was so. But while Jesus remotely healed a gentile, he did not remotely heal a fellow Jew. Jesus remotely healed a stranger, but did not remotely heal a friend. Jesus let the centurion’s servant live, but let Lazarus die. This does not make sense.

If we view this text through the lens of skepticism, we would conclude that this is just another example, of how the bible is an ancient book of inconsistent myths. But, if we view this text through the lens of trust, then we would conclude, that we are playing checkers, while God is playing chess. God has a purpose, for everything he does. Let’s look at this text with some additional lenses.

If we examine this text through the lenses of the social sciences, philosophy and feminist biblical criticism, we see that these events occurred in a traditional Jewish cultural context. Specifically, these conversations and actions happened in a social ecology that was: (1) patriarchal, (2) patrilineal and (3) androcentric. Patriarchal means that the decision making processes of the family units and the community were controlled by the men. Patrilineal means that the Jewish genealogy and inheritance laws were traced through the men. Androcentrism was the practice of placing a masculine point of view at the center of one's world view. Basically, men held the positions of authority in the Jewish community. Academically, this situation is known as the ‘feminization of poverty’; poverty in terms of wealth, identity and power. For women, a household without a man, was a household at risk.

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